Urban Agriculture 

Volunteers weed garden beds at Sanctuary Mahi Whenua. Image – Marita Hunt. Greater Auckland  

Urban agriculture is a broad term that refers to growing, processing and distributing food in urban areas. Urban agriculture can refer to community gardens, where the results and the maintenance of gardens is shared by a specific community. In this sense, urban agriculture provides a locally sourced resource, and a place for community connection. 

Urban agriculture can also refer to other activities such as bee, poultry, aquaculture and animal keeping; urban farms and farmer’s markets (Campbell et al., 2023). 

Today, 56% of the world’s population live in cities and by 2045, the world’s urban population will increase by 1.5 times to 6 billion (World Bank, n.d). Urban community gardens have become a popular way to create locally-sourced, community managed food sources, and can be found in most cities around the world. All forms of urban agriculture create opportunities to bring traditional agricultural methods into urban environments, and adapt them for urban conditions.

Name of NbS

Urban Agriculture

Type of NbS

Hybrid living/engineered interventions


Urban agriculture is, by definition urban, within cities and towns.

Organic Market Garden in Eden Terrace. Image – Brick Content. Greater Auckland

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Connection to locally grown food and self-determination over food production is central to indigenous communities across the globe. In the context of Aotearoa, ‘food sovereignty’ is closely linked to the concept of tino rangatiratanga (self-determination, self-governance, sovereignty). As tangata whenua (people of the land), Māori hold the responsibility as kaitiaki (guardians) to ensure the hauora (health) and mauri (well being, life force) of Pāpatuanuku (mother earth). Māori are inextricably connected to the whenua, reflected in the whakatauki (proverb): “ko au te whenua, te whenua, ko au,” “I am the land and the land is me.” This interconnectedness means that the hauora and mauri of Pāpatuanuku also ensures the hauora and mauri of the people. 

Traditional Māori settlements called kāinga, are a communal way of living on ancestral land and are organised around a deep connection with the whenua (land) where activities such as growing food and sustainably managing natural resources are integral. This localised food production is carried out through māra kai (community gardens) on the rohe (tribal territory, homeland) along with the sustainable management of mahinga kai (natural resources within local ecosystems). Pre-colonisation, kāinga were centres of economic life where the production and distribution of food occurred at a whānau (family collective) level (Kake 2019). While early European settlement brought various innovations such as new crops, tools and methods, the underlying social structure remained the same for Māori where livestock and produce continued to be communally farmed, grown and distributed within whānau and hāpu (wider community that shares common ancestry) (Kake 2019). As the process of colonization expanded, Māori suffered significant land loss and many whānau and hāpu were displaced from their ancestral rohe.

Indigenous people are increasingly urbanised. Urban agriculture provides a way for people to reconnect with their ancestral ways of working with the land to provide food security.

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Climate change benefits
  • Loss of food production
  • Biomass cover loss
  • Increased temperatures
  • biodiversity loss
  • Energy
  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Urban Heat Island effect
  • Changes in Rainfall

In order to create resilient cities, in an increasingly urbanised world, urban agriculture can contribute fresh, local food for urban communities. Across the Pacific, the cost of living is increasing, and increased temperatures and changes in weather patterns have a detrimental effect on food sources. 

Urban agriculture offers solutions to create food security and increase nutrition in diets, in a cost-effective way that allows communities to connect.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • empowerment / equality

Food security is an increasingly prevalent issue in our cities, as populations grow and the cost of living rises. Urban agriculture is a way to teach people how to grow and maintain their own food sources, creating autonomy and empowerment, as well as creating food and nutrition security. Community gardens can contribute to that community’s social and economic development, and teach the next generation valuable lessons about food, gardening and nutrition.

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • aesthetic value
  • biological control
  • creation of a sense of place
  • disturbance prevention
  • education and knowledge
  • food production
  • habitat provision
  • Mana (pride), whakamana (empowerment), tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty)
  • Pollination 
  • Species maintenance

Urban agriculture will become increasingly important as we consider the climate costs of large-scale food production and the carbon cost of its import and export. Urban agriculture projects like community farms and food gardens provide an important resource for education and provision for the next generation. These strategies can future-proof our cities, creating local resources for humans and non humans.

Community gardens can be places to reconnect with the source of your food – to take mana (pride), whakamana (empowerment), tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty) over one’s own nourishment. As we are increasingly disconnected and distanced from our food sources, this is very powerful.  

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Technical requirements

The technical requirements vary depending on the scale and size of the urban agricultural scheme.

Volunteers at Kelmarna Garden in Auckland. Image Mitch Parsons, Greater Auckland
Sanctuary Mahi Whenua at Unitec.I mage – Marita Hunt, Greater Auckland

Issues and Barriers

One barrier to creating urban agriculture is space. Urban environments are a constant battle for space, so finding an area that can be used may be a challenge. Soil quality may also be an issue, but one that can be overcome with soil remediation. An additional challenge may be the consideration of water, especially as it becomes and increasingly precious resource. Urban agriculture will need to consider the most effective ways to manage watering of plants and crops. See also Xeriscaping and Waffle Gardens, to learn about gardens that are created to minimise or completely eliminate irrigation and the need for watering.


Small island nations should consider urban agriculture as their cities continue to develop at a rapid rate. Cost-effective, locally-sourced food resources are a key way to create climate change resilience, food security and connected communities.

Financial case

There is no denying that managing stormwater will need to be a focus of government plans for infrastructure funding across the Pacific. Already, Pacific Island nations are committing millions to upgrading water infrastructure. But typical modern methods take time to build and implement. Implementation of SuDS like these immediately will protect and support both current and future water infrastructure projects, in a cost-effective, sustainable way.

Kelmarna Garden in Auckland. Image Mitch Parsons, Greater Auckland
  • Papanek, A., Campbell, C. G., & Wooten, H. (2023). Social and Community Benefits and Limitations of Urban Agriculture. EDIS, 2023(1). https://doi.org/10.32473/edis-fy1517-2023
  • Kake, J. (2019). Rebuilding the kāinga: Lessons from Te Ao Hurihuri. Bridget Williams Books. https://
  • doi.org/kb4c 
  • Specht, K., Siebert, R., Hartmann, I., Freisinger, U. B., Sawicka, M., Werner, A., Thomaier, S., Henckel, D., Walk, H., & Dierich, A. (2014). Urban agriculture of the future: an overview of sustainability aspects of food production in and on buildings. Agriculture and Human Values, 31(1), 33–51. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-013-9448-4